Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Newsletter

Feature: Jennifer Burke Jackson

Jennifer Burke Jackson leads the Community Practice Studio at JLG Architects, focusing on projects that elevate and inspire communities for the people of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, and beyond. She has served on the JLG Architects Board of Directors since 2019, as well as other community boards and organizations. 

Her greatest commitment has been to the Welcome House, a homeless shelter for children and their families located in Bismarck, ND, where she has served for eight years in different capacities—starting as their grant writer in 2014 and now chair of the board. Jennifer is joyfully married to Patrick Jackson, who is also an architect. They have four rambunctious children: Indie (8), Ruby (6), Clark (5) and Burke (3).

Q: Where did you grow up and how does that impact you to this day?

A: I grew up on a farm and ranch north of Bowman, ND (which also happens to be about 55 miles south of the TRPL project site). Where I grew up influences absolutely every aspect of what I think, who I am, and what I believe in. My ancestors moved from Illinois to North Dakota early in the 20th Century, when T.R. was President—arriving just a few years after T.R.’s first trek in the Dakotas and were well established on our family’s farm by the time T.R. stopped in western North Dakota on his campaign trails.  

Growing up in a small, rural community, life was largely about God, problem solving, relationships, building or fixing things (not to perfection but to meaningful utility), being a good neighbor (with the definition of “neighbor” transcending space and time), and never breaking two laws at once (one was usually fine). I’m deeply grateful for my exceptional parents and siblings and the hard-working, compassionate, and fun-loving communities of Amidon and Bowman which created an authentic, dependable richness in my memories and in my life.

Q: How long have you been working with JLG Architects? Was there something that inspired you to go into architecture?

A: Lonnie Laffen (Founder) and Michelle Allen (CEO) hired me in the Senate Conference Room at the North Dakota State Capital when I was nine months pregnant with my second child. Although that was nearly seven years ago, it was one of the best professional decisions of my life. That decision led me towards being on this amazing team and working on this epic project. 

What inspires me about architecture has evolved throughout the past two decades; but what has remained steady over time is the poetic potential that architecture holds. I believe that within architecture beauty can be uncovered, born, and recognized; and I also believe that beauty can save the world! The poetry of architecture is more dimensional than I ever imagined in the beginning. Surprisingly enough, I think it has almost nothing to do with architecture itself and everything to do with people. I believe that through architecture, in the struggle and process of design and construction, we grow and transform as people. No one is ever the same at the end of a project as they were in the beginning. After the really good projects, I’m not sure we’d even recognize our former selves.

Q: JLG Architects is the T.R. Library Architect of Record. Can you explain what role the architect of record has on our project?

A: The Architect of Record is responsible for the design process and design delivery of the project. This all occurs under the purview of our client and partners—to deliver a balance between quality, timeliness, and costs. We lead a broad team of specialists (engineers, landscape architects, food service designers, traffic engineers, etc.) and organize their deliverables and collaboration events along a specific work plan over time. Though JLG Architects is in contract with over a dozen different entities to support our contract with TRPL, the buck stops with us in terms of hitting the design schedule and providing a path to align the project with the budget at every phase of design.

Q: What excites you about this project?

A: Naturally, the actual innovation of the landscape, the building, and the exhibits is immensely exciting. Words cannot express the moments and memories that this project will ultimately gift visitors. More times than I can remember throughout this process, I have been moved to tears by the ideas that are being brought to life–these aren’t your usual Tuesday afternoon Zoom calls! 

This project would be exciting to be a part of anywhere in the world. For me, this project specifically brings excitement to the rural, west river North Dakota’s status quo of architecture, landscape architecture, and community experience. I believe it will inspire young people to become architects, designers, engineers, and beyond. I also believe it will bring more and greater possibilities to the area.

In my youth, when we would go on road trips to Fargo, the most interesting piece of architecture I recall was the two unique rest areas on I-94 between Bismarck and Jamestown. Because the rest areas were so interesting and different to me, I started telling people I wanted to design rest areas when I grew up. What moves me about this project is the day when a second grader from Bowman or Belfield or Beach or Bowbells can see themselves designing Presidential Libraries when they grow up (…in addition to rest areas)!

Q: This is a very unique project to the region. What has surprised you the most while working on the T.R. Library?

A: What has surprised me the most about this project is how challenging but vital it is to orchestrate collaborative work across several diverse teams in order to achieve the desired impact. Once the vision and plan are established, doing the work as architects and engineers is the easy part. It is the coordination of several large teams with adjacent, but unique, missions to form a cohesive fleet that is the real challenge. When, however, this coordination of teams is successful, then there is real energy and powerful forward movement that results. It is this exponential optimism of real, invested collaboration, as well as the realization of the potential loss without it, that has surprised me the most about my work at the T.R. Library.

Q: Do you have a favorite T.R. Quote or story?

A: I have a favorite quote that is also a popular one, but for good reason! T.R.’s words in his “Man in the Arena” speech change my entire mental tone when I read them. His words gift an empowering and elevating feeling of value within deflated toil. I read T.R.’s words in this speech to lift myself up when life gets challenging, and I also use bits of it with my children. I like to say “it’s not the critic who counts” when their friends don’t like their entirely blue art project or their father disapproves of their fashion choices. These words encourage us to keep trying in our own way—as long as we keep daring greatly.